How social media and big data are changing the way we recruit 

By Amber Blackmon, Senior Clinical Trial Lead, Health Decisions

If you want to attract young, sexually-active men and women to a clinical trial, try Tinder. It may sound like a glib suggestion, but social media advertising – and ads on Tinder in particular – has proven to be a surprisingly effective and cost-efficient way to capture the attention of a younger demographic. It’s one of the many trends that are reshaping the clinical trial recruiting environment as pharma companies and CROs look for innovative ways to cut time, cost and risk from the recruiting process. 

Attracting participants to clinical trials has always been an uphill battle. One 2015 study found 19% of trials were closed or terminated early because they could not accrue enough participants. As the research landscape gets increasingly crowded, competition for patients means these numbers are likely to rise. This is pushing many trial recruiters to rethink longheld assumptions about the best approach to recruiting, and to adapt their methods and messages accordingly.  

Health Decisions, which specializes in running clinical trials focused on women’s healthhas run dozens of studies specifically targeting female patient populations, and over the years we’ve learned many lessons about how to attract women (and men) to the clinical trial experience. These lessons (outlined below) have helped us shorten recruiting times, reduce costs, and better engage with our targeted populations to get them excited about the opportunity to participate in groundbreaking research. 

  1. Men and women have different reasons for participating in clinical research. Our experience shows that male candidates predominantly do it for the money, while women’s drivers are more varied. Some women want to try a new form of contraception or treatment, while others are interested in helping society, and some also do it for the money. Knowing what motivates your target population can help you craft ads that will capture their attention. 
  2. Men and women respond to different kinds of messaging. In general, male candidates are drawn to hard facts about the product, the benefits, and clinical trial process. Women tend to respond more to emotional messaging and images, like a couple holding hands, and language about starting a familyFactoring these emotional or factual needs into your messaging and recruiting conversations will help you engage candidates in ways that are meaningful to them. 
  3. Millennials don’t listen to the radio, and they rarely watch cable TV. This media-savvy generation control their own content flow, so that’s where you need to recruit them. We’ve found that advertising on social media platforms, dating apps, and ad-based streaming services like Pandora and Spotify deliver better results for lower cost – especially when recruiting women. They also allow you to run national campaigns rather than targeting individual communities through local radio and TV ads. 
  4. Leverage influencers. Partnering with patient advocacy groups, activists, and/or celebrities with interests in a targeted condition can help recruiters spread the message about trial participation, and promote opportunities for specific trials. Look for advocates who have a strong social media presence and loyal followers among your target demographic. 
  5. Use your data. Don’t take our word for it, look at your own results. When we recruit for a trial, we track where every potential candidate heard about us, whether they met inclusion/exclusion criteria, and whether they participated for the duration of the trial or dropped out. Then we compare that data to our recruiting advertising budget to see which efforts are delivering the best results for the money.  

A successful recruiting strategy sets a trial up for success, so it is important to do your homework. Depending on your population, timeline, location and targeted condition, conventional recruiting strategies may no longer deliver the best results. By taking time to consider where your preferred candidates spend their time and what kinds of messages they respond to, you can shave days or weeks from your recruiting timeline, while making the best use of a limited budget. 

Read more about Health Decisions’ experience with social media recruitment efforts here.